Quebec Studies

Neurotic Disorders: Gendered Inner Violence in Selected Short Stories by Monique Bosco and Hélène Rioux

Quebec Studies (2000), 29, (1), 115–127.

Abstract

115 Neurotic Disorders: Gendered Inner Violence in Selected Short Stories by Monique Bosco and Hélène Rioux By Paula Ruth Gilbert George Mason University In her revealing The Neurotic Woman: The Role of Gender in Psychiatric Illness, Agnes Miles applies a sociological perspective to neurotic disorders. Despite the fact that "medical categories and indeed the very notions of illness and disease can be viewed as social constructs" (Miles 2), "medical problems are more socially acceptable than personal ones," because they render the individual blameless: "It is more acceptable to be thought ill than to be thought inadequate and a failure" (Miles 8). If medical categories and thus neurotic illness are indeed social constructs, then it is fairly simple to understand why gender differences are clearly marked in the rates of neurotic disorders: "the social stereotype of a 'neurotic' is a woman" (Miles 2).1 Miles believes that neurosis is often the medical word used for unhappiness and that many more women than men are unhappy with their social and personal condition. Using diagnoses such as neurotic depression, anxiety and phobic states, obsessive/compulsive disorders, and sexual problems, studies have indicated that women describe themselves much more frequently as having nervous problems, depression, nervous breakdowns, anxiety, agoraphobia, and other phobias, while men respond with descriptions of nervous exhaustion, drinking problems, and impotence (Miles 20-24). In a similar vein, women think a lot more about the possible causes for their problems, citing relational concerns in marriage, family, past actions, hormonal changes, childhood experiences, adverse life-events, and caring for sick, disabled, or elderly relatives. Their focus is usually on the domestic scene (Miles 24-41). Men, by contrast, seek causes in work-related problems and physical illness (Miles 41-42). Most significantly—and not surprisingly—women tend "not to accept the 'obvious' explanation of their misfortunes and [continue] to search for the meaning of their experiences whereas the men, having come up with an explanation, [are] content to stay with it" (Miles 43). Women are also more likely to develop neuroses, often as a response to intolerable social conditions. Only when those conditions improve will the individual improve. Generally women have to contend with more pressures and complexities; social restraints are more of a burden on them; their ability to find coping mechanisms is more constrained; and many (male) medical personnel often dismiss their problems as "women's troubles" (Miles 142). But ultimately, Miles believes, even medical/psychiatric solutions themselves are inappropriate because "neurosis is a social disorder lending itself to social remedies" (Miles 154). In other words, changing the social construct that is society would seem to be a more viable solution. 2 Taking neurotic behavior a step further and relating it to instances of depression and its frequent manifestation in violence, Oliver James has crafted an interesting theory that identifies the violence of depressed males as out- Québec Studies, Volume 29, Spring/Summer 2000

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Gilbert, Paula